The fascination with divorce rates. And oh, all the experts who try to predict divorce.

Social scientists have been interested in the rationale of why people get divorced for a long time. While many studies – some of which we’ll discuss shortly – possess some merit, there’s also plenty of misinformation out there. Here’s an illustration: For many years, scientists adamantly cited the “cohabitation effect” as irrefutable.

The cohabitation effect was a concept – supposedly “proven” through repeated studies in the early-2000’s – that living together before marriage increased one’s odds of divorce. In a 2012 study published in The Journal of Marriage and Family, researchers examined the link between premarital cohabitation and divorce by using a large sample of nearly 3,500 Americans.

63 percent of couples lived together prior to marriage. The divorce rate among these 2,205 couples? 20 percent.

So much for the “cohabitation effect.” (Sounds good though, right?) It’s not all the scientist’s fault, however; they were merely looking at (and analyzing) the wrong data. Further, they were downplaying a second, more critical variable. More specifically, researchers weren’t taking age into account. Youngsters tying the knot after living under the same roof did show a higher-than-average divorce rate, which skewed the “real” cohabitation numbers.

So why do people (really) get divorced?

Here are five signs that predict divorce according to recent research:

Healthy marriages are good for couples’ mental and physical health. They are also good for children; growing up in a happy home protects children from mental, physical, educational and social problems. However, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. ~ American Psychological Association

1. They’re too young

While cohabitation may not influence the decision to divorce, the research discovered that the age at which a couple moves in together or gets married does.

According to statistics derived from Census data, 12 percent of individuals aged 30 years had already experienced a divorce. Graphically, the age range in which people are likeliest to get married is between 20 and 25. Shortly afterward – within 2-3 years – divorce rates disproportionately increase.

stages of divorce

2. Emotional instability

Neuroticism, or the long-term tendency to be in a negative or anxious emotional state, positively correlates with divorce statistics.

The tendency to overprotect often manifests into controlling behavior. Further, neurotic traits are common in anxiety and depression disorders, which can affect the long-term durability of marriage. While it isn’t known for sure, young age – and the immaturity that often accompanies it – may be at play to some extent here.

3. Demographic variables

Data from the National Survey of Family (NSOF) growth has found that divorce statistics are linked to several demographic variables, including education level and religious background.

Individuals who identify with a religious affiliation and higher education tend to have longer-lasting marriages. NSOF data also shows significant differences in divorce rates according to race/ethnicity.

4. Genetics

Studies have repeatedly shown that individuals are more likely to divorce if divorce “runs” in their family. More specifically, children of divorced parents have a much higher risk of getting divorced as adults.

Research published in the Journal of Family Issues found that parental divorce increased one’s risk of ending their marriage within the first five years by as much as 70 percent. Interestingly, some psychologists believe there may be a genetic predisposition for divorce.


5. Infidelity

Unsurprisingly, cheating doesn’t instill much confidence in the other person. Not only are marriages in which one person cheats more likely to end in divorce, couples who choose to stay together often experience much poorer relationship quality.

In a 17-year study published in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers analyzed data from a nationally representative U.S. sample of 2,033 married individuals. Results from the study reveal that those who scored highest on the measure of divorce proneness on the analyzed surveys were most likely to report cheating later in the study.